Pioneer Park Closes Centennial Center After Tests Show Building Unsafe

Nov 18, 2019

The Centennial Civic Center at Pioneer Park was shut down last Friday after the building was thought to be dangerous. Events scheduled for last weekend were hastily moved and more will be rescheduled through November, December and January. The biggest impact is on the Fairbanks Arts Association, which is suddenly without office, storage or gallery space, and has to move many artworks while repairs are worked over the next three to four months.


Tests on the external columns of the structure showed wood rot.

Dave Vanairsdale, borough engineer, said the decay was first noticed in 2014, and seven columns were bolstered the following year. This October, a testing firm looked at the cores of 22 columns in the building. Vanairsdale said staff looked at the graphical data for each column and realized five of them could not support the load.

“There was over 200 test locations, they tested 22 columns, the report was 108 pages long, it was sifting in and finding the bad spots. Five were found to have significant decay.”

The Centennial Center for the Arts is the round building just inside the front gate of Pioneer Park. The park was first opened for the A-67 exhibition, celebrating the centennial of colonial Russia’s handoff to the United States in 1867. It was designed by Philleo Engineering of Fairbanks to resemble a Southeast Alaska tribal hall. The columns rise above the round structure in points, giving some to dub the building “the Birthday Cake,” because they look like candles.

It includes the Bear Gallery, a full production theater, a two-story exhibit hall with an open mezzanine as well as conference space which is used for large and small events.

Vanairsdale says engineering staff have been looking at the columns several times a week, and when testing results were analyzed, they decided the building was unsafe and repairs should be immediate.

“In some cases, they support two floors. But in general, most of the columns support at least one floor level and one section of the roof.”

At a press conference on Friday, Jessica Pena, executive director of the Fairbanks Arts Association said they are scrambling to make the move to some other place. They have offices on the first floor and gallery space on the third floor of the civic center.

Borough Mayor Bryce Ward, left, listens to David Vanairsdale discuss test results, with Jessica Pena, right, and MIchael Bork, far right.
Credit Robyne

“Having just learned about this this afternoon… we have over a hundred local artists and authors who are featured in our giftshop, so we are figuring out preparations to safely exit the most precious of items from our gallery and office space.”

Pena said she needs volunteers to help with the move, including people with trucks, and they must reach the organization by email, as the phones would be cut off soon. The association is keeping its website up at https://fairbanksarts.org/

The Parks and Recreation staff is also scrambling to reschedule or relocate about 90 events scheduled in the next few months. Director Michael Bork says this is a busy time for the park with holiday bazaars and parties.

“There’s no real convenient time. This is particularly difficult, due to the season. But public safety is what’s at question here, so we’re going to continue the working with folks that have events coming up in the next few months.”

Repairs will take between 90 to 120 days and will cost about $100,000. The Borough has already repaired and updated seven columns in 2015 and will use the same method as used then, of extending the wood with steel plates.

The Public Works Department had identified the Centennial Center for the Arts as a Borough facility that eventually needs to be replaced. Borough Mayor Bryce Ward:  

“We are going to need to find a replacement for that facility. But at this time, since we don’t have any other option for our community for those folks to go to, it’s my recommendation that we continue to push forward with those repairs.”

If your organization has an event scheduled at the Centennial Center, please call Pioneer Parks administration office at 459-1087 to discuss the relocation of your event.